SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) could make it compulsory for employment agencies to check in on their foreign domestic workers during their period of employment, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said in Parliament on Monday (Mar 8).
“Although it’s not mandated for (employment agencies) to check in on the foreign domestic workers, we do know of some employment agencies that take the extra step in checking with the employers as well as the foreign domestic workers … we think this is a good practice, and there is scope for us to look at institutionalising it so that there is one more touch point ... for foreign domestic workers to raise concerns,” she said in response to MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim’s (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) suggestions to improve the welfare of foreign domestic workers.
He recommended that the ministry makes it mandatory for “employment agencies to have some responsibility” while the worker is under contract and if mental health support could be offered to them during this period as well, to which Ms Gan said that it was an area the ministry would be "interested to pursue".
MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) had asked in a parliamentary question how the ministry plans to protect foreign domestic workers from abuse.
Ms Gan said the Government is reviewing its measures including enhancing the one-on-one interviews after newly arrived workers start work with their employers and compulsory days off so that workers have a better chance at seeking help. These plans were previously announced in her Committee of Supply speech last Wednesday.
Right now, workers are given a weekly rest day, but they can agree to work on their rest day if the employer compensates them.
Following up from Ms Gan’s reply, Mr Giam asked if there are professional or legal consequences for doctors who fail to report suspected abuse, and if officials will raise the penalties on such doctors.
He also asked if there are plans to screen employers, and how can workers report their situation if they do not have a phone or a day off.
Ms Gan said they are working with the medical community on improving the ways doctors detect and report abuse cases.
“Currently it is in the form where doctors are required to report if they detect signs of distress or abuse … I think the main issue now is that it may not be so easy and discernible for doctors to detect abuse cases and it does require some objectivity,” she said.
Foreign domestic workers have to undergo a medical examination every six months. Since 2017, doctors are required to report to the police or to MOM immediately if they spot signs of abuse.
As for screening employers, Ms Gan said the Government notes employers with a history of complaints against them, as well as those that change workers frequently.
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And for workers without a rest day or mobile phones, the Centre for Domestic Employees reaches out to them through interviews, she said. Currently, the organisation conducts interviews with first-time workers in their native language within the first few months of their employment.
MP Lim Biow Chuan (PAP-Mountbatten) asked how the ministry will balance the interest of both employers and workers, as there are employers who have been falsely accused by foreign domestic workers trying to secure a transfer.
Ms Gan said the ministry has officers that investigate such cases. Most of them stem from miscommunication, she said.
“Some employers may have certain special requirements or may have standards that are higher than the others. Some foreign domestic workers may have more capacity than others when it comes to work,” said Ms Gan.
She added: “If there is a poor fit … I think it is best that we try to adjust to redeploy the foreign domestic worker to other households instead of forcefully and prolonging the problem for both parties."